Philosophy 37 - 2.6.1 Identify Claims

The key element in any argumentative paper is the claim you wish to make or the position you want to defend. Therefore, take your time identifying claims, which is also called the thesis statement. What do you want to say about the topic? What do you want the reader to understand or know after reading your piece? Remember that narrow, modest claims work best. Grand claims are difficult to defend, even for philosophy professors. A good thesis statement should go beyond the mere description of another person’s argument. It should say something about the topic, connect the topic to other issues, or develop an application of some theory or position advocated by someone else. Here are some ideas for creating claims that are perfectly acceptable and easy to develop:

  • Compare two philosophical positions. What makes them similar? How are they different? What general lessons can you draw from these positions?
  • Identify a piece of evidence or argument that you think is weak or may be subject to criticism. Why is it weak? How is your criticism a problem for the philosopher’s perspective?
  • Apply a philosophical perspective to a contemporary case or issue. What makes this philosophical position applicable? How would it help us understand the case?
  • Identify another argument or piece of evidence that might strengthen a philosophical position put forward by a philosopher. Why is this a good argument or piece of evidence? How does it fit with the philosopher’s other claims and arguments?
  • Consider an implication (either positive or negative) that follows from a philosopher’s argument. How does this implication follow? Is it necessary or contingent? What lessons can you draw from this implication (if positive, it may provide additional reasons for the argument; if negative, it may provide reasons against the argument)?

Think Like a Philosopher

The following multiple-choice exercises will help you identify and write modest, clear philosophical thesis statements. A thesis statement is a declarative statement that puts forward a position or makes a claim about some topic.

  1. Which of the following is a declarative statement that puts forward a position or claim?
    1. How does Aristotle think virtue is necessary for happiness?
    2. Is happiness the ultimate goal of human action?
    3. Whether or not virtue is necessary for happiness.
    4. Aristotle argues that happiness is the ultimate good of human action and virtue is necessary for happiness.
  2. Which of the following declarative statements goes beyond mere description?
    1. René Descartes argues that the soul or mind is the essence of the human person.
    2. Descartes shows that all beliefs and memories about the external world could be false.
    3. Some people think that Descartes is a skeptic, but I will show that he goes beyond skepticism.
    4. In the meditations, Descartes claims that the mind and body are two different substances.
  3. Which of the following statements proposes a comparison between two philosophical views?
    1. Descartes says that the mind is a substance that is distinct from the body, but I disagree.
    2. Contemporary psychology has shown that Descartes is incorrect to think that human beings have free will and that the mind is something different from the brain.
    3. Thomas Hobbes’s view of the soul is materialistic, whereas Descartes’s view of the soul is nonphysical. In this paper, I will examine the differences between these two views.
  4. Which of the following statements identifies a weakness in a philosopher’s argument and proposes a criticism of that argument?
    1. John Stuart Mill reasons that utilitarian judgments can be based on qualitative differences as well as the quantity of pleasure, but ultimately any qualitative difference must result in a difference in the quantity of pleasure.
    2. Mill’s approach to utilitarianism differs from Bentham’s by introducing qualitative distinctions among pleasures, where Bentham only considers the quantitative aspects of pleasure.
    3. J. S. Mill’s approach to utilitarianism aligns moral theory with the history of ethics because he allows qualitative differences in moral judgments.
  5. Which of the following is an example of a statement that applies a philosophical idea to a contemporary issue or problem?
    1. Rawls’s liberty principle ensures that all people have a basic set of freedoms that are important for living a full life.
    2. The US Bill of Rights is an example of Rawls’s liberty principle because it lists a set of basic freedoms that are guaranteed for all people.
    3. While many people may agree that Rawls’s liberty principle applies to all citizens of a particular country, it is much more controversial to extend those same basic freedoms to immigrants, including those classified by the government as permanent residents, legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, and refugees.

[ANS: 1.d 2.c 3.c 4.a 5.c]

Write Like a Philosopher

Use the following templates to write your own thesis statement by inserting a philosopher, claim, or contemporary issue:

  1. [Name of philosopher] holds that [claim], but [name of another philosopher] holds that [another claim]. In this paper, I will identify reasons for thinking [name of philosopher]’s position is more likely to be true.
  2. [Name of philosopher] argues that [claim]. In this paper, I will show how this claim provides a helpful addition to [contemporary issue].
  3. When [name of philosopher] argues in favor of [claim], they rely on [another claim] that is undercut by contemporary science. I will show that if we modify this claim in light of contemporary science, we will strengthen or weaken [name of philosopher]’s argument.
This lesson has no exercises.

The content of this course has been taken from the free Philosophy textbook by Openstax